Over the weekend I saw Soul Doctor with my mom and stepfather.
This is the musical telling of the journey of Shlomo Carelbach, guitar-playing Rabbi.
On the one hand, this is not a strong show. I suspect this can be attributed to the fact that the director is also the writer of the book–this can lead to trouble. Someone needed to bring a strong editing eye to it; cut it and rearrange it. It is too long, kind of all over the place, a bit depressing–it’s hard to tell a story with heavy subject matter and hit the right emotional notes; be moving and NOT depressing, but it can be achieved.
I didn’t love a lot of the music, as musical theater goes–most of it was not memorable. Shlomo’s songs as Shlomo were the best, and the portrayal of Nina Simone was outstanding–those were the strongest scenes.
On the other hand, Shlomo Carlebach came to our temple when I was about 10 years old. He performed for us and with us–it was a beautiful experience. I’ve never forgotten him; neither has my mom. We were enthralled, all of us (even the two of us who did not experience the man) to see this portrayal.
(And now I’m asking myself–when did I get my first guitar? I know I decided when I was 6-7 that I wanted to play guitar, and I was around 10 when I got it, so I’m wondering where seeing the gregarious yet gentle bard fit into my personal timeline.)
It seems like the show did incorporate a few of his actual songs, though I wasn’t clear on that from the program–maybe I missed it though. Certainly a few felt like him, and they were the better musical moments. I shall now make a point of familiarizing myself with his actual music. Here, you’re welcome to do the same. They are entirely uplifting, whether you understand a word or not.
The show simply focused on things that didn’t need focus and didn’t follow through on things that could have been amazing. We can’t quite figure out why there was no mention of the fact that he did go on to have a wife and child, when there was scene after scene about how he should do just that.
This review echoed a lot of what we experienced, albeit a bit more harshly–we did very much enjoy this show. Turns out some very basic facts are wrong, and we can’t figure out why they made those changes. For example, he wasn’t from Austria; he was from Berlin. This, though, captures best what was missing for me:
“….not only takes a dramatic amount of license with Shlomo’s life but also misses most of what made him so popular. The rabbi’s charisma is more asserted than demonstrated, and his breakthroughs—the insights that led him to combine folk music with liturgy, the hard work that went into his songwriting—are entirely ignored. In Mr. Wise’s conception, Shlomo is a passive participant in his own life.”
So the conclusion is, I didn’t think it was great storytelling, but I was so happy to see the story told; to get a glimpse of what I remember, it was enjoyable. And the performances were terrific!!!
And let’s face it; Jews love seeing the portrayal of Judaism. This thing is no Fiddler, but it is a pleasure to experience this texture; to see it onstage.